First published: Fall 2011
Stories about discoveries of previously unknown bodies of outsider art have become so familiar over the last few decades that the pattern is now a regular art-world paradigm. Were it not for such discoveries, artworks produced by many visually creative individuals who operate outside the art system and do not regard themselves as artists would likely remain forever unknown.
That would have almost certainly been the fate of works by the artist known as Mingering Mike. This urban African-American man was a young amateur singer and songwriter when he began making drawings and related art objects as an outgrowth of his private music-related dreams.
He lost track of the work years later, after being diverted from his creative path, but fortunately – and unlike so many self-taught artists whose art is belatedly rediscovered – he remained very much alive when an appreciative collector stumbled onto the lost work.
The impetus for Mike’s art was his fantasy career as a massively popular singer of soul and funk tunes. As a teenager living in Washington, D.C., in the late 1960s, he began a prolific songwriting practice that, according to his estimate, eventually yielded more than 4,000 songs in those genres. He tape-recorded himself singing many of them, sometimes with vocal accompaniment by a male cousin whom he nicknamed ‘the Big D’. The resultant audiotapes consisted of spirited vocals rhythmically underpinned by makeshift percussion.
He made no effort to publish his songs or have them commercially released, but he extended his superstar fantasy to the packaging of his music, creating hand-drawn, hand-lettered, one-of-a-kind covers and sleeves for the ersatz vinyl records he also made.
These ‘records’ consisted of nothing more than cardboard discs with circular, pasted-on labels containing handwritten song titles surrounded by hand-drawn spiral patterns mimicking hair-thin record grooves. He enclosed the discs in the homemade sleeves, some of which he even slipped into cellophane shrink-wrap packaging with affixed price stickers.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #73